If there is anything we human’s need to pay attention to more, it’s our mental wellbeing. As we hurtle towards a more technologically integrated lifestyle, we tend to treat our mushy little monkey brains like we abuse our computers: with about 80 odd tabs open at once, idle apps running in the background, and one or two intensive programmes being used at the same time.
It’s time we disconnect.
So what better way to unplug from the matrix, than to sync your chakras over the course of seven days!
UnearthU’s presence on Steam is mystifying on the surface, like seeing an authentically tweedy vision board on a 4chan forum; then I reached the description, and proceeded to astral project out of my body in exasperation.
The game presents itself as a “one week program designed to support you in living your life on the highest plane of existence”, and if that already didn’t raise a red flag, it continues to explain that you’ll be guided by an artificial intelligence dubbed “KARE”, of which both the app and the A.I. was produced by a Silicon Valley start-up tech company “FRTHR” (pronounced “further”).
The premise alone sent me from an optimistic “Oo!” to a dejected “Hm...” within a second - resulting in an inadvertently apt (albeit tonally wonky) “Ooohmm”.
I wasn’t sure which side of the fence UnearthU was going to fall onto - be it the superficial bog-standard experience a lot of mindfulness apps operate at, or perhaps a satirical perspective upon the mindfulness industry. What I got was the best, and worst, of both worlds.
This dualistic nature extends into the “gameplay”, existing between being a wellness app and an augmented reality game. On one hand, the practises used for the daily courses of meditation, reflection, and rituals are surprisingly dependable and authentic enough to hold up on their own. On the other, the dated design and faux-humanistic presentation can be abrasively impersonal - a case of the game being too convincing in the early days of gameplay; looking quite cheap in the process.
As mentioned, the game spans seven days (and that’s seven real life days) with about 15 minutes of gametime per session. Every day, you’ll be given five courses to explore: Inspiration, Discussion, Meditation, Reflection, and Ritual.
In my Mediation sessions, I learned some valuable breathing techniques such as Sama Vritti Pranayama (Inhaling from the chest to the stomach, and exhaling out from stomach to chest sequentially), and Nadi Shodhana (or alternate nostril breathing) - of which I still use after my week of the game.
The Reflection sections were akin to journaling, with the added spin of some philosophical prompts with heady questions to respond to. The Ritual aspect was more of a daily list of things to do and check off a grid, for example; to take three deep breaths, write a list of things you’re grateful for, do some exercise, yadda yadda.
But where UnearthU really shines is in the story, or rather - the Inspiration & Discussion parts. These can be distilled into the chronicles and personification of FRTHR & KARE. In the Inspiration portions, FRTHR’s default Americanised male text-to-speech voice waxes robo-poetic over vintage stock footage. There are some useful nuggets of deep thought to chew over, but also an underlying implication of indoctrination.
Whereas KARE’s Discussion’s went deeper into asking questions and matters of the self, unto which the focus of UnearthU shifts from the player to KARE herself. I was a bit miffed at first, but once it became evident where this game was going - that this was a journey with KARE and not exclusively about myself, I gained more faith in the process and shifted my perspective of the game.
Throughout the week, you see how the topics during the Inspiration and Discussions influence the behaviour of KARE - and by extension, the game. Though I appreciate the concept of UnearthU, I feel as though the execution of aesthetics, pace, and a deeper exploration of its themes could have taken this title further.
The game is beyond interactive in a way I've not yet experienced in game, but wish to see in the future. It’s quite a wonderful idea to create a game about the gamification and monetisation of topics outside of videogames (in this case - mindfulness & wellness apps). Though, if anyone was looking for a self-care app and unknowingly chose UnearthU, they may be in for a bit of a surprise! Because, as a wellness app - it’s actually serviceable, albeit quite cold and robotic due to the text-to-speech hosts.
There’s a charm to the aesthetics of UnearthU: the rudimentary stock 3D model of KARE, the surrounding 2D botanical graphics, and aforementioned archived stock footage. Only, all the pieces that were put together were disjointed and amateurish. Which would have been fine, had it not presented itself as a product of a Silicon Valley-based business. Perhaps taking inspiration from contemporary corporations like Gaia or notable movements such as the Rajneeshpuram.
The auditory experience was similarly hit or miss; more so the oddity of certain stylistic choices that may have become endearing, but ultimately disconnected at times from how grounded the narrative was being. The majority of the time though, the score was as serene or contemplative as it needed to be - full of pulled synths, digitised sound bowls, and jittery reversed strings to achieve the best work.
UnearthU is a raw, unpolished game that houses a brilliant spark of creativity, though the enjoyment of this title is solely dependent on the patience and fortitude of the player. The more you commit to the game, the more you will benefit once the seven days are over. Under the guise of being a “wellness app” lies an interesting story that weaves around and over the line of entertainment and reality, an experience somewhat similar to an ARG (Augmented Reality Game).
UnearthU (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
This is a game for those with the patience to fully invest in this seven-day experience. Depending on how you approach UnearthU: As a mindfulness app, it’s pretty useful although teetering on the edge of being problematic - as a unique ARG-like experience, it’s extremely innovative.